Goodbye Sweet Muse...

My apologies... I seem to have let my blog slip by during the spring and summer months. It's been a very busy season including teaching many art workshops, summer camps, and being promoted to the Art Director at Fox River Academy. As far as my work is going I have been full steam ahead.

"Tennis Ball!", Mixed Media, 2006

However the month of July took my breath away. My beautiful, sweet, smart, and loyal muse, Mattie the Border Collie, crossed over the rainbow bridge after giving me 13 years of joy (I had adopted her when she was only one year old).  Many of you knew her personally and others of you felt like you knew her from my work. Starting with my first Spring Show at the Academy of Art to being the main character in my thesis, Mattie was not only a fixture in my life but the inspiration for countless works of art. There is really something special about drawing someone you love.  It is a way to get to know them in a whole different way. I have put together a small collection of sketches and work inspired by Mattie on my Facebook Page called Mattie the Muse.

A Day in the Life, Graphite, 2008
Piece from "Marvelous Adventures of Mattie" Concepts for Children's Book Series,
Acrylic and Mixed Media, 2009

I wrote about our journey together on my personal Facebook Page and I cannot think of any other words that could capture our relationship.  I have been told I should publish this piece of writing so I will share it with you as well.  Hopefully it might help you to get to know her better, understand our life together, and if you have ever lost a pet, maybe it will let you know that you are not alone.  They are truly family members and we feel a great loss when they leave our world.  Thank you for letting me share her with you.

Brainy Border Collie, Pen & Ink and Watercolor, 2008

Puppy Hugs, Acrylic and Mixed Media, 2008

On July 11, 2004, my life changed forever.  My life changed for the better. I was forced to grow up and be responsible for someone other than myself.  In return, I would go on adventures, receive tons of love, and never be alone. On July 11, 2004, I drove up to rural Wisconsin and picked up a one year old rescued Border Collie. I took home my Mattie.

For thirteen years you were a fixture in my life. For the first year and a half you were my sidekick and co-worker in Chicago. You led the pack while I ran my dog walking business, taking charge, making friends, and fetching that ball. You swam in Lake Michigan and romped in the Cook County Forest Preserves with your Doggy Grandma and Grandpa. You were full of life and gave me a reason to get outside every single day.  The only person you didn’t bark at when they came into our apartment was my future husband. You showed me the path before I knew what it was going to be.

For eight years you were by my side in California. We could go anywhere. Hiking in the redwoods, dipping our toes in the ocean, swimming in the bay, climbing to heights above the world looking down on the entire bay area. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and ran on the beach in Marin.  We even went to doggy friendly wineries and romped in the snow at the Sierras at Lake Tahoe.  We walked on the white sands of Carmel and drove down highway one taking in the intoxicating salty smell of the ocean. We made friends at parks and trails everywhere – Alameda, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, San Jose, Palo Alto, Campbell, Santa Cruz, Los Gatos…  It was a dog paradise. It was our paradise.

I probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day during graduate school without you. You got me out of my tiny apartment and kept me healthy. You made me soak in the sun and made me soaked in the rain. You gave me oxygen. You were my muse, the main subject in my artwork and main character in my thesis. At the moments I thought about quitting, when it got so hard, Dave would say to me, “But what about your Mattie stories?” and I knew I had to keep going. Because you had a story to tell and I needed to tell it.

You were there for my wedding…if only in spirit I kept your old tag in my purse with me so you could be there for this momentous occasion. You went with us on our honeymoon in Tahoe.  We romped in snowdrifts and made snow angels together. You warmed your sweet paws by the fire with my new amazing husband. We were officially a family.

You became not only a fixture in my life, but also the lives of my family. You lived with my parents in Chicago while I moved across the country and became a little spitfire grand doggy, going on adventures in the forest preserves with their own lovable Golden Retriever, Nike.  You lived with us at my in-laws house with their enthusiastic dachshunds, Bart and Lisa, for at least 2 years and every trip Dave and I took in-between.  You warmed Larry’s feet and were very vocal if he wanted to move them. You joined Trina on her morning walks with the ladies… to the point where she had to put her tennis shoes on in secret otherwise you’d bark at her until she took you with her or made a mad dash out of the house if you couldn’t come. You became buddies with Auntie Suz and your cousin pup, Atley.  You showed him the ropes in Palo Alto. Sharing adventures at Bol Park, the local dog park, and barking at passersby in the backyard at Che’ Lovercheck…helping to create the place we fondly call “Speakers Corner.”

And then our family grew to four. At the moment I left to go to the hospital to give birth to my amazing daughter Emily, I looked you in the eye and told you “Don’t worry, you’ll always be my first baby,” and I meant it.  You became Emmy’s nana, always by her side. Her protector, her second mama, her motivation to sit up, roll, and walk. Later in life, you became her buddy and as Emmy called you her “Furry Sister.”

For one year you were my savior in Minnesota. Transported to a place with no friends or family, you kept me sane. You made me get outside and breathe the country fresh air.  We saw our first bald eagle nearly land within twenty feet of us. You made children fall in love with you as they walked to and from class at the STEM School that was located on the same property of our apartment.  You made our neighbor kids throw that ball for you…making sure everybody got a turn.

Then we returned to the Chicagoland area, living in Aurora for the last two years. Not quite the bustling city life we lived before but perfect for our older bones. In this new suburban life your bond with Emmy grew even stronger, joining us for stories at bedtime every night and scratching at the door if we forgot to call you up. Racing her in the soccer field next to our house and even letting her win occasionally. You were here for her first day of preschool and her graduation to the big girl bed (that you couldn’t resist sneaking into every once in awhile). We discovered the joy of snow hiking and the beauty of quiet.  You continued to be the motivation to get me outside and appreciate the simple beauty of the Midwest.

You were my baby, my muse, my confidant, my hiking buddy, my go-to adventure gal, but most of all, for 13 years, my best friend.

Oh sweet Mattie, I miss you more than I can ever articulate. Much like you lived, the disease that took you from us acted quickly… so quickly we could barely catch our breath before we knew your time with us was over. I am so sorry I couldn’t stop it. I wish I was a superhero who had the power to go into your beautiful brain that made you the amazing dog that you were and suck the poison out that took you from us, but that’s just not the way life works. I cannot look around my house without seeing remnants of you. I cannot go into the car without seeing pieces of you. I cannot look down a trail without seeing your beautiful fluffy black and white tail bobbing up and down as you trotted with your ball. So proud. So smart. So beautiful.

The only comfort that I have is that you are no longer confused and scared, and the time that you were was so very brief.  In one quick week that horrible tumor robbed us of you, but for 13 years and 3 weeks prior to that I hope we gave you an amazing life. I read once that as a person the world is your window, but as a dog your person is the window to your world.  I tried my best to open that window wide, knock it down, and walk out the door with you every single day of your life.  In the last week of your life we took you to 2 different forest preserves, including Emmy’s favorite hike, where you walked in the river and smelled all the stinky river smells. We walked along the big lake that we hiked at for the last two years, the trails we conquered in snow and sun.  We were naughty and let you go on the splash pad where you could splash and play and “bite the water” like you loved to do. You ate salmon burgers, cheese pizza, your favorite treats and homemade cheeseburgers for your last meals. Every medication we had to give you was wrapped in cheese or peanut butter. We still took you out on our daily walks, 2 - 3 a day at least. On your last night I slept downstairs with you since you no longer could walk up the stairs to your favorite spot in-between the bed and the wall. I laid next to you on the floor and hugged you like I used to in my bed when we lived in Alameda so many years ago and rubbed your sweet pink belly. On your last morning you spent the entire day outside with the wind in your fur and the sun on your face and the cool grass on your sweet paws. We took you off-leash in the soccer field and though that horrible tumor took your sight during your last few days and you could no longer see to fetch the ball, I hope being there gave you some joy and comfort.

On July 31, 2017, you left our world and you left my life. I meant it when I told the vet that hearts will break all across the country. You crossed paths with so many people and made so many smile. Whether they giggled because they thought you were nuts, they loved your intensity and drive, or they were tickled at the bond we shared.  We were always a package deal.  I knew this day would come, but I never wanted it to. I would joke that I sold your soul to the Devil because you needed to live forever, but unfortunately you were just too good and he didn’t want it.  Thank you for giving me so many happy memories. Thank you for giving me the great outdoors and showing me a world I never would have known without you. Thank you for being my muse and giving me motivation all though graduate school.  Thank you for comforting me and making me feel safe all of the times that Dave was out of town or I was just feeling alone. Thank you for teaching my daughter the love of animals and the love of a dog. Thank you for being that dog that also taught her respect for living creatures and letting her know you weren’t just a toy. You were a living, breathing being with feelings. Thank you for loving my amazing husband and giving him almost as many happy memories as you gave me. Thank you… for being in my life. Someday I’ll be ready to get another dog, but they will never be Mattie. I miss you. I love you. Rest sweet girl.  All done.


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